President Barack Obama extolled the accomplishments and amazing life of Reverend and Democratic Senator Clementa Pinckney, the miracle of God’s Grace, and the true meaning of the African American Church during the eulogy he delivered in honor of Rev. Pinckney on June 26. The Reverend was slain, along with eight members of his congregation as they prayed and studied the Bible, in Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on the evening of June 17.
The President began his remarks at the memorial service by “giving all praise and honor to God,” then quoted a passage from the New Testament:
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. – Hebrews 11:13
President Obama eloquently described Rev. Pinckney as a model American citizen who came from a long line of Christian pastors, who exemplified Christian service, resilience, empathy, and fortitude, and who was beloved by his family and fellow U.S. senators.
The President went on to describe the African American church as representative of the true soul of America’s foundation, calling it “A sacred place…Not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.”
Racism, apathy, injustice, the Confederate flag, and gun violence were also included in the eulogy. The President ended by singing the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” accompanied by the thousands of memorial service attendees.
Highlights from this service follow:
“To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church. The church is and always has been the center of African-American life, a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.”
“Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout ‘Hallelujah!’ Rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement.”
“[Black Churches] have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart, and taught that they matter. That’s what happens in church.”
“That’s what the black church means. Our beating heart. The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate. When there’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel, a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founder sought to end slavery, only to rise up again, a Phoenix from these ashes.”
“When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, services happened here anyway, in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps.”
“A sacred place…Not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all…That’s what the black church means” – President Barack H. Obama
“We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches… as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress. An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.”
“Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas.”
“He didn’t know he was being used by God. Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.”
“…I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals — the one we all know: ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.’”
“We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway. And we choose how to receive it. It’s our decision how to honor it.”
“For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present…Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.”
“Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal.”
“History can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past” – President Barack H. Obama
“By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.”
“Reverend Pinckney once said, ‘Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history — we haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history. What is true in the South is true for America.’”
“ …Justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being free, too. That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past; how to break the cycle. A roadway toward a better world…the path of grace involves an open mind but, more importantly, an open heart.”
“If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything can change.”
“Clementa Pinckney found that grace. Cynthia Hurd found that grace. Susie Jackson found that grace. Ethel Lance found that grace. DePayne Middleton-Doctor found that grace. Tywanza Sanders found that grace. Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace. Myra Thompson found that grace.”
“Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.”
John Newton, William Cowper. “Amazing Grace” from Olney Hymns. England, 1779; page 53.
Eulogy transcript, courtesy, Whitehouse.gov (accessed 6/29/2015). https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/06/26/remarks-president-eulogy-honorable-reverend-clementa-pinckney
See the entire service below; video, courtesy, C-Span.